Sustainable 3D Printing


Imagine a 3D printer sitting on your desk at home. With the click of a button you select your favorite Star Wars coffee mug and hit the print button. A few minutes later R2-D2 is waiting for his fill of coffee. No pile of packaging and bubble wrap to throw out. No emissions from a ship plowing across the ocean or truck crawling through traffic.

You and R2-D2 enjoy countless moments surfing the internet, keeping the mouse pad warm, and rocking out the mug collection at work.

Until one day the inevitable happens. R2-D2 gets introduced to the tile floor. His circuitry remains intact, but the handle lays shattered in pieces.

Grab the broom and sweep him into the trash?

Nope. You have a 3D printer.

With the click of a button you print a new handle and mounting hardware. While you’re at it, you print a lid to keep him warm. No waste, plus an upgrade! All with reusable and biodegradable printed material.

Today’s 3D printers are closing the gap towards such a sustainable future. Biodegradable filaments such as PLA offer an alternative to non-biodegradable and non-reusable ABS plastics.

Numerous startups around the world have released materials that make 3D printing even more sustainable. BioInspiration in Berlin produces WillowFlex; a compostable non-GMO corn starch based filament. ColorFabb offers a PLA based filament that contains recycled bamboo fibres.  3D-Fuel in the US has been working on a variety of filaments that integrate left-over coffee grinds, beer, hemp, and algae.

When it comes to reusable 3D printed material, startups like ExtrusionBot are exploring ways to shred old discarded prints into pellets that can then be extruded into new spools of filament for reuse.

New modeling and slicing software is applying biomimicry to create less wasteful prints by reducing the density and volume of material.

In addition to the recent sustainability developments, the community of hobbyists, enthusiasts, and entrepreneurs are driving further improvements in printer speed, resolution, and reliability.

All of this advancement means that your biodegradable, zero-packaging, upgradable R2-D2 coffee mug is just around the corner.

Credits – Header photo: ‘3D Printed Wood Flowers‘ by Licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 / Cropped from original.


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